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Last Updated on August 5, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 943

The main character in this text is Agamemnon, brother to Menelaus, husband to Clytemnestra, and father to the ill-fated Iphigenia.

Agamemnon's internal conflict is the main force of this text. He is torn between his own guilt, his duty to his brother and the Greek soldiers, and his love of...

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The main character in this text is Agamemnon, brother to Menelaus, husband to Clytemnestra, and father to the ill-fated Iphigenia.

Agamemnon's internal conflict is the main force of this text. He is torn between his own guilt, his duty to his brother and the Greek soldiers, and his love of his daughter. Because Agamemnon went hunting and killed a deer in a sacred grove of Artemis, he angered the goddess. She, in an act of vengeance, stills the winds so that the ships cannot sail to Troy. The goddess Artemis demands that Agamemnon sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia in order to raise the winds so that Greek troops can sail to Troy to reclaim Helen.

Initially, Agamemnon refuses to obey this command; he cannot sacrifice his beloved daughter and cause unimaginable grief to either his child, his wife, or himself. This shows his fatherly love and devotion to family.

However, Menelaus uses convincing arguments to force Agamemnon to change his mind. Agamemnon then decides to placate both Menelaus and Artemis with the required sacrifice, so he sends a letter summoning his daughter to come to Aulis. His cleverness is evident, as he fabricates a story that will appeal to his daughter. His letter states that Iphigenia will marry the great Achilles, and in this way he hopes to get his daughter there so he can sacrifice her.

Soon after, the anguished and conflicted Agamemnon changes his mind and writes another letter that urges his wife and daughter to stay at home. He writes that the wedding will be postponed to a later time. This action shows the depth of his conflict.

However, Menelaus intercepts the letter, and Agamemnon's wife and daughter arrive at Aulis under false pretense.

Menelaus, as seen above, is also an important character in the text.

Ripe with anger at the loss of his wife, Helen, Menelaus also proves to be a man conflicted between duty, ambition, and family. At first, when he discovers that Agamemnon will not sacrifice his daughter, he is furious. He rages at Agamemnon, stating that he has a greater duty to his troops and to Greece than his duty to his daughter. However, Agamemnon bares his sorrow to his brother, and Menelaus changes his mind. He will not require his brother to sacrifice Iphigenia. He shows compassion and sensitivity when he reasons that Iphigenia is his kin, and it is unjust that she should die while his own children live. He states that the moral thing to do is to show affection and love for his brother and family, even if it may cost him dearly. He even offers the idea to kill Calchas to prevent the Greek troops from knowing the prophet's message from Artemis.

Calchas (the seer) and Odysseus are two characters that also indirectly affect the story's action. Because each knows the demands that Artemis makes for a successful voyage to Troy, they have the power to tell this secret to the Greek troops. If this secret is leaked, the troops may turn against their leaders for their refusal to do what is needed to go to Troy. Agamemnon argues that even if Calchas is killed, Odysseus may tell the armies, and in bloodlust and anger, the armies may slay him, his brother, and Iphigenia.

Clytemnestra, wife to Agamemnon, is a strong woman and major character.

She argues with Agamemnon when he makes up lies to try to get her to go home and leave Iphigenia and the marriage preparations up to him. Agamemnon says that she has other daughters at home whom she must take care of, but Clytemnestra says her place is with her daughter at her wedding. Clytemnestra shows her strength of mind and force when she tells her husband that "it is [my] place to decide what is proper for maidens at their wedding." She also shows a mother's love when she begs Achilles to help prevent her daughter's death. She also is not afraid to speak boldly to her husband when she scolds him for his cruel plans to kill Iphigenia and warns him of the repercussions of this action.

Iphigenia is a main character in the text as well, as she provides the central conflict for all of the main characters.

It is obvious she loves her father deeply, as she is grieved at his long absence from home due to his duties to the troops. She is confused and hurt by her father's plan to sacrifice her. She proves her strength at the end of the text when she says that she will willingly go to her death to see Troy destroyed and Greece protected and awarded heightened glory. She also shows her allegiance to the gods, knowing that their demands are to be respected and honored.

Achilles is another character in the text.

His greatness is the tool Agamemnon uses to lure his daughter to Aulis. When Achilles finds out that he was used by Agamemnon to betray Agamemnon's own daughter, he is angered and says "[he] is indignant to think [he] was used as a tool." He shows his honor when he tells Clytemnestra that he will not allow Iphigenia to be sacrificed. He feels that since his name was used to lure her there, he would be as guilty of her death as the father who is willing to sacrifice her. He states that he will murder and kill if he must do so to protect Iphigenia. Even when Achilles's troops are angry with him and think his ploy is to save Iphigenia for his love of her, he still agrees to remain loyal to his promise to Clytemnestra to protect her child.

Characters Discussed

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 872

Iphigenia

Iphigenia (IHF-uh-jih-NI-uh), the older daughter of King Agamemnon. The Greek prophet Calchas has revealed that Iphigenia must be sacrificed to the goddess Artemis to secure a favorable wind for the Greek ships becalmed on their way to conquer Troy. Agamemnon has summoned his daughter to Aulis, where the ships have been delayed, under pretext that she is to be married to Achilles. She appears as a very young and delicate girl, completely devoted to her father. She greets him with affection and gaiety, but the scene is pathetic and filled with tragic irony. When she reappears, she has learned that she is to be sacrificed, and she pleads with her father for her life. Her appeal is entirely in terms of pity and love, for at this point she sees the sacrifice as entirely a matter between her and her father. Agamemnon replies that he does not serve his personal desires but Greece and that Iphigenia must be sacrificed for the good of the Greek cause. He leaves and Achilles enters. Unaware at first of the use of his name to bring Iphigenia to Aulis, he has since learned of the truth and he has promised Clytemnestra, Iphigenia’s mother, to defend the girl; he appears to keep the promise. Iphigenia intervenes, however, for she has resolved to die. She is now the arbiter of the fate of Greece, and she will give her life to obey the will of the gods and to punish the barbarians who took Helen away. With a plea to her mother not to hate Agamemnon or to mourn her death, she leaves to go willingly to her sacrifice. She is the only person in the play who is blind to the weakness of Agamemnon; to her he is a great man, sacrificing her for the sake of Greece.

Agamemnon

Agamemnon (a-guh-MEHM-non), the commander in chief of the Greek army. He is an ambitious politician but unsure of his own motives and in some respects a coward. At the beginning of the play, he writes a second letter to Iphigenia telling her not to come to Aulis, but his message is intercepted by Menelaus, the husband of Helen and brother of Agamemnon. In the interview between the two brothers, Agamemnon’s true character is revealed: He is ambitious to control the Greek forces and, though he sincerely loves his daughter, he agrees to sacrifice her of his own free will. It is clear that he will do so, for a refusal now may mean opposing the whole army. He lies to Iphigenia and Clytemnestra when they appear. After they have learned the truth, he argues that the sacrifice is necessary for the good of Greece.

Clytemnestra

Clytemnestra (kli-tuhm-NEHS-truh), a commanding and efficient woman who treats her weak husband Agamemnon with scant respect. Refusing to return home, as he suggests, she discovers through a servant his true intention of sacrificing his daughter. By appealing to Achilles’ injured pride, she elicits his promise to defend Iphigenia, but she agrees first to appeal to Agamemnon herself. Her speech to her husband is a strong one containing reproach for his past and threats for the future. To Iphigenia’s last request that she should not hate her husband, Clytemnestra replies that he acted by guile and in a manner unworthy of a son of Atreus and that for his deeds “he must needs run a fearful course.”

Achilles

Achilles (uh-KIH-leez), the noble Greek warrior whose name is used, without his knowledge, to bring Iphigenia, who expects to become his bride, to Aulis. He comes to speak with Agamemnon and is greeted warmly by Clytemnestra. His amazement causes them to realize the deceit that has been practiced upon them. He is angry at the indignity such usage brings to his name and he promises Clytemnestra, who plays on the insult to his pride, that he will protect Iphigenia. He is self-centered, for he reveals that had his permission been sought he would not have refused it for the sake of Greece. After the appeal to Agamemnon has failed, he reappears; the army is clamoring for the sacrifice and his opposition to it has almost cost him his life. He is true to his promise. Even after Iphigenia’s decision to accept her sacrifice, he offers to wait at the altar to defend her if she should change her mind.

Menelaus

Menelaus (meh-neh-LAY-uhs), the husband of ravished Helen and brother of Agamemnon. Eager for the sacrifice of Iphigenia, he intercepts Agamemnon’s second letter. Although his interpretation of Agamemnon’s motives is prejudiced, it corrects and completes Agamemnon’s own. When he is sure that Agamemnon will carry out the sacrifice, he insincerely protests affection and pity; he says he has changed his mind and will not demand the sacrifice.

An old man

An old man, a servant of Agamemnon. He sets out with the second message for Iphigenia but is intercepted. Later, he reveals Agamemnon’s plan to Clytemnestra and Achilles.

The Chorus of women of Chalcis

The Chorus of women of Chalcis, who have come to Aulis to see the Greek ships and warriors. Their description of the Greek fleet and army emphasizes the importance of the war to follow.

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